The Washington Post

On ‘Daily Show with Jon Stewart,’ Obama defends Libya response, jokes about Biden

President Obama paid a call on “The Daily Show” on Thursday, submitting himself to the ritual of acerbic host Jon Stewart’s mix of tough questions and mock serious quips in an effort to reach a wide audience of potential voters less than three weeks before the election.

Stewart made Obama laugh several times, but he also pressed Obama on why his administration appeared “confused” in its response to the terror attacks on American diplomatic personnel in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11. The White House first said the attacks were in response to an anti-Muslim Internet video before later calling it a terrorist attack.

“We weren’t confused about the fact that four Americans had been killed,” Obama replied. “I wasn’t confused about the fact that we needed to ramp up diplomatic security around the world right after it happened. I wasn’t confused about the fact that we had to investigate exactly what happened so it gets fixed. And I wasn’t confused about the fact that we’re going to hunt down whoever did it.”

The president added that “every piece of information that we get, as we got it we laid it out to the American people. The picture eventually gets fully filled in.”

Republican nominee Mitt Romney has criticized the president’s handling of the incident, arguing that the White House had not been forthright and questioning why the administration had not provided more security for the Benghazi consulate.

Stewart suggested that the administration’s response had not been “optimal.”

“Here’s what I’ll say. When four Americans get killed, it’s not optimal. We’re going to fix it. All of it,” Obama said. “The government is a big operation and any given time something screws up. And you make sure that you find out what’s broken and you fix it. Whatever else I have done throughout the course of my presidency the one thing that I’ve been absolutely clear about is that America’s security comes first, and the American people need to know exactly how I make decisions when it comes to war, peace, security, and protecting Americans. And they will continue to get that over the next four years of my presidency.”

The taping of the show, which will air at 11 p.m. Thursday, was part of a whirlwind trip for Obama, who started the day with a campaign rally in New Hampshire before arriving in New York for the show, a private meeting with campaign donors and a speech at the annual Al Smith charity dinner sponsored by the New York Archdiocese.

Obama sat for two seven-minute segments with Stewart, playing along when the host gently ribbed him and his top aides.

“How many times a week does Biden show up in a wet bathing suit?” Stewart asked at one point, prompting the president to joke that he had issued a directive to stop the vice president from doing so.

“But I’ve got to say, he looks pretty good,” Obama said with a laugh.

But the conversation was mostly serious. In the discussion on national security, which took up most of the second segment, Stewart asked Obama about the difficulty of protecting civil liberties while ensuring national security.

The president reiterated his pledge to close the Guantanamo Bay facility in Cuba, a promise he failed to achieve in his first term, and he blamed Congress for not allowing it.

Of his track record in prosecuting terrorism, the president said: “We’ve gone after al-Qaeda and its leadership. It’s true that al-Qaeda is still active, at least sort of remnants of it are staging in other parts of North Africa and the Middle East. Sometimes you’ve got to make some tough calls, but you can do so in a way that’s consistent with international law and with American law.”

Stewart ended the segments with another joke, asking Obama to guess how many e-mails the president’s reelection campaign had sent him.

“It depends on whether you’ve maxed out” on donations, Obama answered with a chuckle.

David Nakamura covers the White House. He has previously covered sports, education and city government and reported from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Japan.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The Democrats debated Thursday night. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Chris Cillizza on the Democratic debate...
On Clinton: She poked a series of holes in Sanders's health-care proposal and broadly cast him as someone who talks a big game but simply can't hope to achieve his goals.

On Sanders: If the challenge was to show that he could be a candidate for people other than those who already love him, he didn't make much progress toward that goal. But he did come across as more well-versed on foreign policy than in debates past.
The PBS debate in 3 minutes
We are in vigorous agreement here.
Hillary Clinton, during the PBS Democratic debate, a night in which she and Sanders shared many of the same positions on issues
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the polls as he faces rivals Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz heading into the S.C. GOP primary on Feb. 20.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 18%
Fact Checker
Trump’s claim that his border wall would cost $8 billion
The billionaire's claim is highly dubious. Based on the costs of the Israeli security barrier (which is mostly fence) and the cost of the relatively simple fence already along the U.S.-Mexico border, an $8 billion price tag is simply not credible.
Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio
The complicated upcoming voting schedule
Feb. 20

Democrats caucus in Nevada; Republicans hold a primary in South Carolina.

Feb. 23

Republicans caucus in Nevada.

Feb. 27

Democrats hold a primary in South Carolina.

Upcoming debates
Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.